A new movie about J. Edgar Hoover is focusing attention on the question of the former FBI director’s sexual orientation.
The movie, “J. Edgar,” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and is directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Dustin Lance Black, it hits movie theaters early next month.
In preparation for the Warner Bros. movie, DiCaprio and Eastwood consulted with the FBI and with former FBI agents such as Cartha D. “Deke” DeLoach, a top Hoover aide.
|Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover
While none gave any indication that Hoover and his longtime deputy Clyde Tolson had a sexual relationship, sources tell me the movie will show Tolson making an overture to kiss Hoover. The trailer shows Hoover clutching Tolson’s hand in the director’s chauffeured car.
The movie’s suggestion that the two had a sexual relationship has stirred outrage from some FBI agents who served under Hoover.
“There is no basis in fact for such a portrayal of Mr. Hoover,” William Branon, chairman of the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation, wrote to Eastwood in Burbank, Calif., earlier this year. “It would be a grave injustice and monumental distortion to proceed with such a depiction based on a completely unfounded and spurious assertion.”
The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI sent a similar complaint, saying a “rumored kissing scene,” reported in early accounts, “caused us to reassess our tacit approval of your film.”
To its credit, the movie does not adopt a claim that Hoover — depicted
|Director Clint Eastwood and Hoover
by DiCaprio — engaged in cross-dressing or wore a red dress at the Plaza Hotel in New York. That was a fabrication concocted by Susan Rosenstiel, who had served time in prison for perjury. Nonetheless, Anthony Summers quoted her outlandish claims in his book “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” creating myths about Hoover that will live on forever.
Hoover’s relationship with Tolson — portrayed by Armie Hammer — is a different matter. As noted in my new book “The Secrets of the FBI
,” Hoover and Tolson, both bachelors, were inseparable. They ate lunch together every day and dinner together almost every night. They vacationed together, staying in adjoining rooms, and they took adoring photos of each other.
Beginning in the 1950s, the FBI regularly assigned agents from the Washington field office to discreetly follow Hoover and Tolson as a security precaution. R. Jean Gray, one of the agents assigned to what was called HOOWATCH, says the surveillance consisted of agents in two bureau cars who would tail Hoover and Tolson as they left the Justice Department at the end of the day.
“We followed them to Harvey’s or to the Mayflower, where they had dinner,” Gray says. “Then we took them to Tolson’s apartment on Cathedral Avenue, where Tolson got out. Then we went to Hoover’s home. We stayed overnight [outside his home in bureau cars].
"The next morning, agents would follow Hoover as he picked up Tolson and went through Rock Creek Park and down Constitution Avenue to the Justice Department,” Gray says.
“We speculated about Edgar and Clyde,” Gray adds. “But if anything scandalous had happened with the director, it would have gone coast to coast within the bureau in 30 minutes.”
Still, the fact that Hoover spent his leisure time with a man and that they took adoring photos of each other points to Hoover’s being homosexual. He lived with his mother in the family home until she died when he was 43.
Most telling, when Hoover’s will was probated, Tolson received his estate, estimated at $560,000, including his home. It was the equivalent of $2.9 million today. The bequest to Tolson was the final word on the closeness of their relationship and another indicator that Hoover was gay.
While he could have been in denial about his sexual orientation or was aware of it but suppressed it, Hoover also conceivably could have had sexual relations with Tolson when the two were alone together in each other’s homes, as they often were.
On their last evening together, shortly before 6 p.m. on May 1, 1972, Tom Moton, Hoover’s FBI chauffeur, drove him to Tolson’s apartment. The two had dinner there. Moton drove Hoover home at 10:15 p.m. The next morning, Hoover was found dead on the floor near his bed.
Given their emotional attachment, Hoover and Tolson had a spousal relationship as broadly defined. The movie’s portrayal — without showing them actually having sex — is a legitimate dramatization of their relationship.
William M. Baker, a vice president and director of the Hoover Foundation and a former FBI assistant director of public affairs, says the movie presents him with a dilemma.
“While I would have real concerns if the movie portrayed an openly sexual relationship, I also recognize that today’s FBI is a much different workplace and is open to diversity,” Baker, who once headed the Motion Picture Association, tells me. “So the question becomes how far do you go to raise objections?”
Hoover reigned as FBI director for 48 years. He created the most admired law enforcement agency in the world, one that has kept us safe since 9/11. On the other hand, he engaged in massive abuses. As documented in “The Secrets of the FBI
,” that included keeping files on members of Congress and presidents used for implicit blackmail. As a result, Hoover was more powerful than presidents and a worthy subject for a movie.
Aside from concerns of former agents, the movie appears to be a responsible portrayal based on fact. By showing Tolson making a move on Hoover, it places the onus on Tolson.
One thing is sure: Based on the trailer, “J. Edgar” will be a bulls-eye at the box office.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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